Cannabis use laws in Australia are currently administered by each local State or Territory and the laws differ across the country. It is illegal to use, possess, grow or sell cannabis in Australia, but the penalties for cannabis offences are different in each state and territory.
Some jurisdictions have decriminalised minor cannabis offences, such as the possession of a ‘small amount’ of the drug for personal use. This means that the offence can be dealt with by a fine or similar rather than by receiving a criminal charge.
Below are the current laws pertaining to cannabis in each State and Territory across Australia:
Australian Capital Territory (ACT)
In the ACT, anyone found in the possession of up to 25 grams of cannabis or with up to two non-hydroponic cannabis plants they receive a $100 fine instead of a criminal charge. Instead of paying the fine, the person may choose to attend a drug assessment and treatment program.
South Australia (SA)
South Australia was the first state to decriminalise minor cannabis offences in Australia in 1987. The possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana, 20 grams of hash, one non-hydroponic plant or cannabis smoking equipment leads to a fine from $50 to $150.
Northern Territory (NT)
In the NT if caught in possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana, one gram of hash oil, 10 grams of hash or cannabis seed, or two non-hydroponic plants you will be fined $200.
New South Wales (NSW)
If someone is caught with up to 15 grams of cannabis in New South Wales, they may receive a ‘caution’ from the police officer, which includes information about the harms associated with cannabis use and a number to call for drug-related information or referral. Only two cautions are allowed to be given to the same person before possession becomes a criminal offence and conviction.
A police officer may give someone a caution and offer them the opportunity to attend a cannabis education program if they are caught with no more than 50 grams of cannabis. Only two cautions are allowed to be given to the one person before a criminal conviction is recorded.
Someone found in the possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis can be given a caution up to three times in ten years. For the first caution, information and referral is provided. A brief intervention is given with the second caution. On the third and final caution, the offender must be assessed for drug dependence and attend either a brief intervention or treatment program. After this, it becomes a criminal offence.
In QLD, anyone found in possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis must be offered access to a diversion program. This is the only state in which diversion must be offered to a minor cannabis offender – elsewhere, it is up to the police officers whether or not they offer diversion or charge the offender. The diversion includes a mandatory assessment and brief intervention program. Only one offer of diversion is allowed per person.
Western Australia (WA)
Individuals in possession of not more than 10 grams of harvested cannabis and/or a used smoking implement who have no prior cannabis offences will be required to attend a Cannabis Intervention Session (CIS) within 28 days or receive a cannabis conviction for the offence. All cannabis cultivation offences will attract a criminal conviction.
As you can see from this information, the laws pertaining to cannabis use differ greatly across Australia. Even though some States/Territories have 'diversion' techniques in place, it can totally depend on the police officer at the time whether this is offered in most cases (except QLD). This draconian approach to policing personal cannabis use is unacceptable and places a huge strain on the justice system in most cases. It does not provide a uniform approach to policing cannabis use across Australia and many fantastic citizens are being penalised for 'smoking a little weed' rather than having a few cold beers. Medicinal marijuana laws have progressed in recent years, but recreational laws have a long way to go.
At some stage these laws have to change and hopefully, with a little progressive thinking, we will see change in my lifetime.